China Box Office: ‘Time Raiders’ Defies Lousy Buzz with Thursday Release

  • Film sets new August opening record in the world’s No. 2 film market—RMB 476M ($72.1M)
  • Paled next to $135M North American opening of Suicide Squad, a film that won’t be released in China
  • Peak summer season could close without a single film having reached RMB 1 billion ($150 million)

An old sailboat in Guangzhou harbor decked out in an advertisement for Time Raiders (Courtesy of Weibo)

While the Chinese-language 3D/IMAX adventure film Time Raiders (盗墓笔记) set a new high for an August opening in the world’s second largest film market — RMB 476 million ($72.1 million) over the weekend — its opening paled in comparison to Warner Bros’ record-shattering North America opening of Suicide Squad, with its $135 million haul.

Time Raiders’ impressive Chinese opening weekend was helped by fans of young, popular stars Lu Han (The Great Wall) and Jing Boran (Monster Hunt), whose enthusiasm outweighed overwhelmingly negative reviews—the likes of which also challenged Suicide Squad in the U.S. (Suicide Squad won’t be released in China).

Time Raiders is adapted from a best-selling series of online novels about tomb-raiding that brought millions of pre-existing fans into China’s theaters; the addition of stars Lu and Jing, as well as premium-priced movie tickets all but guaranteed “Raiders”’ record-breaking performance.

IMAX reported on Sunday that Time Raiders grossed $5 million from 309 IMAX screens, China’s biggest-ever three-day summer opening in the large-screen format.

Despite racking up nearly RMB 500 million in its first three days of release, Time Raiders will struggle to maintain a dominant grip on the box office next weekend, leaving the peak summer movie season without a single film having reached RMB 1 billion ($150 million).

Moviegoers spread terrible word of mouth from the start for Time Raiders. Sensing the impending backlash targeting the cheesy visual effects and wooden acting, distributor Le Vision applied for and was granted a last-minute license to release “Raiders” early on Thursday evening. The tactic worked as Time Raiders was able to add RMB 38.6 million ($5.8 million) from just four hours of advanced screenings.

In second place this weekend, Illumination Entertainment’s The Secret Life of Pets scored solidly with family audiences buying tickets worth a gross $15.6 million. “Pets” was given a rare summer import license but saddled with a poor mid-week release. Since its Tuesday debut it has grossed RMB 194 million ($29.4 million). The film should continue to play well on weekends on its way to a RMB 400 million-450 million ($60-$70 million) finish.